The Intimacy of Memory: A mixed media exhibition on death and remembrance 

The objects we keep are a testament to the depth and breadth of being human and loving. The objects we keep are sacred containers.

This body of work seeded itself 15 years ago when the biological mother of my adopted daughter, Taylor, died of AIDS. Taylor was six at the time. As I cleaned out her mother’s apartment, I had to decide what to keep. Which items would hold memories of her mother and offer Taylor comfort both in moment and throughout her life? As I selected a few dishes, her mother’s favorite shirt, a locket, a mirror, I knew it wasn’t just what I kept but also what I didn’t keep that would play a role in Taylor’s recollections.

The Intimacy of Memory is a mixed-media exhibition on death and remembrance examining why people choose particular objects or keepsakes after someone close to them has died. In what ways does an object, chosen in grief, represent the person who died and the shared relationship with the survivor? How do objects celebrate a life? How do objects prompt memory and how does this memory change over time?

As part of this exploration, I interviewed participants and meditated on what I had heard. When I began to paint, the layers of color seemed to mirror the layers their recollections: feelings of loss, love and longing. While many details, faded into the background, what I felt most acutely was the sense of connection that stretched from the present to the past. I began to see how relationships and roles become fixed in time and space at the moment of death…how we forever remain mother/father/grandfather, husband/partner, sister/daughter/granddaughter.

As shared by his parents… 

"Jim's Shirt" by Nancy Marks

Jim’s Shirt: Jim, beloved son, died at 52 of a heart attack. He had four brothers (represented by the white shirts), played hockey, and after a long struggle with alcohol, became clean and sober. Jim could often be found in his ‘uniform’ – shorts and a Hawaiian shirt – even in weather that would have most people reaching for a sweater or coat. The height measurement marks symbolize a near-universal experience for parents–no matter the age—when a son or daughter dies, the profound loss is that of losing a child.

As shared by her daughter… 

"Martha's Travel Clock" by Nancy Marks

Martha’s Travel Clock:  To her daughter, the travel clock evokes childhood memories of her mother’s ‘adventurous soul.’ When she tried to use it recently, Mary found it was still charged with the pain of a difficult history caused by her mother’s alcoholism. Still, she is working to understand and reconcile her past in hopes that will result in a more peaceful way to remember and love her mother.   

As shared by her daughter…

"Dori's Recipe Box" by Nancy Marks

Doris’ Recipe Box: Doris died of a stroke surrounded by her family. She was a mother, wife, friend, business maven and ‘amazing bridge player’. As a woman of the 50s, she was also the cook in the family… not considered her strongest suit. The recipe box sits out on her daughter’s counter. Though Martha doesn’t use its contents, the box is a constant presence that symbolizes her mother’s complexity and hidden vulnerability. The playing cards represent her mother’s smarts and independence.

As shared by his long-time partner… 

"Martin's Alarm Clock" by Nancy Marks

Martin’s Alarm Clock: His alarm clock was the last thing Martin touched before he left for an operation a year ago, which left him paralyzed and unable to return home. He died a few months later. Arthur, his partner of 25 years thinks of his death as ‘broken time’. The canvas is wrapped in thread as homage to Martin, who was a tailor and sewing machine operator, and the flecks of pink a nod to his love of life and color.

As shared by his husband…

"Frankie's Wedding Ring" by Nancy Marks

Frankie’s Wedding Ring: Together for 40 years, Frankie and his partner married as soon as gay marriage becamelegal; George still wears his wedding ring to this day. Their beautiful home is still decorated with photos of their many trips, and adorned with hundreds of volumes of screenplays, attesting to Frankie’s long lost dream of becoming a playwright. In turmoil about the still fresh loss of his partner, George’s memories swirl with emotion.

As shared by his sister…

"Joe's Toy Soldiers" by Nancy Marks

Joe’s Toy Soldiers: Joe died on 9/11. He was working as a bondsman when the plane hit the South Tower. With the World Trade Center and the grief and terror of that day slowly fading, his sister Mary smiles as she remembers her younger brother’s warmth, life-giving energy and amazing imagination that kept him playing with his green toy soldiers for hours.

As shared by his granddaughter…

"Zep’s (Grampy’s) War Medals and Cigar Tube" by Nancy Marks

Zep’s (Grampy’s) War Medals and Cigar Tube: Zep died too soon for his granddaughter Julie, who was 17 at the time. A war WWII hero, he was a quiet man, who in many ways filled the role of both mother and father for her. Julie’s memories of her beloved Zep engage her five senses: the feel of the hump in the back seat of their 1979 Sunbird as he drove her to work, the smell of his cigars, the glint of the medals she often looked at, the sound of his voice as she listened to his war stories, the taste of the hotdogs they would share on summer days.

By Nancy Marks, Intimacy of Memory creator…

"Taylor's Bio Mom's Stuff" by Nancy Marks

Taylor’s bio mom’s stuff: When Taylor’s biological mom died when she was six, she became an orphan. As her adoptive mother, I was deeply challenged by the responsibility and the knowledge that the objects I saved or didn’t save would impact the ways in which she remembered her mom. How could I possibly know what would be important to Taylor when she turned 12, 24 or 50? How could something so important also feel so arbitrary?



The Intimacy of Memory will be on view at Fitchburg State University, Massachusetts from September 17-October 22, 2014 in the Gallery at Sanders. For more information, contact

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